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Augsburg Mourns the Death of Joel Torstenson

torstensonThe Augsburg community mourns the death of Joel Torstenson, professor emeritus of sociology. He died Oct. 18 at the age of 94. On Saturday, Oct. 27, a memorial service will be held in Hoversten Chapel at 5 p.m., with visitation 1 hour earlier.

So much of Augsburg’s identity today as a college of the city stems from Torstenson’s work at Augsburg. He founded the sociology and social work departments, and the metro-urban studies program. He developed urban programs in Minneapolis that launched HECUA (the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs) and that led to the work of our Center for Service, Work, and Learning, including Engaging Minneapolis, which requires all students to connect with the city in their studies.

Torstenson came to Augsburg as a student in history from Dawson, Minnesota, and graduated in 1938. He went on for his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota in history and sociology. In 1947, Augsburg president Bernhard Christensen invited him back to Augsburg, even while still completing his PhD, to develop programs in sociology and social work.

Torstenson’s deep commitment to social issues led him to explore and work in farmers’ cooperative movements, rural community life, church-labor relations, racial justice and human rights, and urban studies, especially studying the question of the role of a liberal arts college in a metropolis.

In 1977, Garry Hesser was appointed to succeed Torstenson as he retired. With his memoir, Takk for Alt: A Life Story, Torstenson opens a window into his life’s work and thought and leaves a rich legacy for future generations of Augsburg students.

Two weeks ago, as the Department of Sociology celebrated its 60th anniversary, Torstenson was honored as the “father of sociology” at Augsburg.

Torstenson is survived by his wife, Frances, whom he met at Augsburg while she was a nursing student at Fairview, and four daughters, Carol, Janice, Ruth Ann, and Linnea; grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and nieces and nephews.

Pictured: Joel Torstenson and his wife, Frances.

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